In recognition of Black History Month, I have created a “First Team” of my favorite Black players (so far), whom I’ve had privilege to watch and get to know during my 20-plus years covering high school and club volleyball.
Black History Month was created by Carter G. Woodson in 1926 to celebrate Black achievements. It is commonly said that Woodson selected February to encompass the birthdays of two great Americans who played a prominent role in shaping black history: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, whose birthdays are the 12th and the 14th, respectively.
This is not a list of the absolute best Black players I’ve seen — any such list would require the presence of Megan Hodge (Triangle; high school Class of 2006) — but rather those players who most deeply impressed me both on and off the court.
It is true that there remains a dearth of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) in our sport, an issue that we have to take notice of and look for ways to change. We have to figure out how to make our sport inclusive and safe for BIPOC athletes and we should all pledge to redouble our efforts to make the sport more mainstream and accessible as well. Fortunately, there have been enough impactful and impressive Black players over the years that this list required only searching the recesses of memory to create. Thanks to all seven of you for forever enriching my life.
Setter: Chloe Collins (Houston Juniors, 2013) — Collins was a lefty who played with pure joy. She was mesmerizing to watch on the court. She stood only 5-7 but was usually the tallest player on the court because of the way she commanded it. Collins is the rare undersized player who could take over a match and dominate it. Off the court, Collins had a smile so big and a personality to match. She was the kind of person whose very presence just brightened your day. If I ever had the opportunity to invite my four favorite all-time players/people to dinner, she would definitely have a seat at the table.
Outside hitter: Kim Glass (Synergy, 2002) — I got to know Glass before I started PrepVolleyball.com in 2003. The bond was immediate. I was managing editor at Student Sports Magazine at the time and we were going to put Glass on our cover in the fall of 2001. With JO’s in Sandy, Utah, that year, she and her Synergy teammates came out from Pennsylvania to Southern California to scrimmage and prepare. We sat cross-legged on the floor of a gym in Long Beach for hours talking like old friends. Glass was the No. 1 recruit in the country her senior year with good reason — she was tall, athletic and nowhere near her ceiling — but I remember her more as that kid who was as interested in me as I was in her.
Outside hitter: Kanani Danielson (Imi Ike, 2008) — Known as “Kanani Herring” in high school, Herring took her stepfather’s last name when she got to college, saying, “This is something that I have been looking forward to finalizing for a long time. I have decided to take the name Danielson, the name of my stepfather William Danielson, because he is the man who raised me and the man I think of as my father.” I share this story because Kanani is and was so much more than the high-flying attacker who was state POY three straight years and who led Kamehameha to three straight state championships. She personified grace while displaying humility. Her decision to honor her stepfather is completely consistent with who she is. As much as I LOVED watching Kanani soar on the left side and use her remarkable athletic ability to great effect in the back row, I will remember her most for her grace. She was one of the most genuine people I have ever known, a young lady who treated everyone with kindness and respect. (Note: I penned the words above in 2019 while counting down my 20 all-time favorite players for PrepVolleyball.com. Because the words described her perfectly back then, I did not change a single one.)
Middle blocker: Haleigh Washington (Colorado Juniors, 2014) — Washington touched 10-9 in high school and was unstoppable off of one foot behind the setter. The No. 1 recruit nationally in the class of 2014, she started her senior year by setting a state record with 48 kills in a match. For a middle blocker, that’s unheard of! As capable as Washington was on the court, she impressed me more off of it. Washington is an eclectic and deep thinker. I was lucky to see so many different facets of this amazing young woman when we were stuck at an airport together for several hours. I believe it was during her years at Penn State. I discovered quickly that she’s the kind of person you could talk to forever and never be bored!
Middle blocker: Rachael Adams (Team Z, 2008) — “When Adams takes the court, prepare to be thrilled. She does everything with high energy and flair.” Those were the first two sentences I wrote about Adams in her Senior Aces blurb. Adams was the kind of athlete – world-class quickness and 36-inch vert – who commanded your attention. Her style of play commanded it, too. She was a good kind of cocky, the kind that made you want to watch because she was going to put on a show, not to embarrass her opposition but to demonstrate that she loved what she was doing inside the lines.
Right side: Sierra Patrick (Austin Juniors, 2012) — I was covering NEQ in Baltimore or D.C. (I don’t remember which) and started talking to Patrick. I think Chloe Collins was there also. Patrick was so pleased to learn that I knew who she was, which was crazy, because how could I not know? Both of her parents were track and field Olympians, so Patrick came by her athleticism naturally. She stood only 5-10 but played so much taller, which made her a wall on the right side. Patrick was a superstar, on the court and the track, you wouldn’t know it talking to her. She was just “C,” a happy, down-to-earth kid doing her thing and being a friend to all.
Libero: Shanel Bramschreiber (Madfrog, 2018) — Bramschreiber was always so fun to watch in the contrasting jersey. She brought an attacker’s mentality to the libero position. She attacked the ball rather than letting the ball attack her. And watching her sprint headlong to keep a ball in play was a thing of beauty. She played so many positions during her high school years – hitting, setting, defending – there was nothing that Bramschreiber, a club director’s daughter, couldn’t do well. That extended to off the court, where she was always so approachable and gracious with her time.
Three others I seriously considered: OH Tarah Murrey (Golden Bear, 2008), OH Jade Parchment (Metro VB of D.C., 2018), and OH Talaya Whitfield (Mizuno Long Beach, 2004).